Set aside the descriptors—gay, black, southern, Christian, preacher—and Reverend Erik Taylor Doctor’s message is one of simple and pure inclusion: we are all different, but we all share common bonds.
However, those undeniable identifiers of his character are exactly what brought the Williston community together during his Why Not Speak? Day February 22 assembly, and helped make his message—a sound, sweet one—resonate so strongly.
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, speaker Nyle Fort had a message for Williston Northampton School students: Don’t be taken in by the feel-good “lullaby” that usually passes for celebrating the legacy of Dr. King, which he called, “a sweet song sung by defenders of the status quo to keep us asleep.”
The third Monday in January has come to be associated with community service projects to honor the late civil rights advocate. Fort said he didn’t want to diminish the idea of service. However, he quoted Dr. King who said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
At an assembly on November 29, student council president Natalie Aquadro ’17 presented a donation of $2,750 to two representatives of Riverside Industries. Students then got to hear about an organization based near the school’s campus in Easthampton that for 48 years has been working for adults with developmental disabilities.
Char Gentes, president and CEO, and Nisa Zalta, director of community relations, projected a series of photographs of clients at their jobs, and enjoying programming including music, art, farming, and yoga. They spoke to students about how adults of all abilities have the right to work, volunteer, learn, and play.
“When each of us can be ourselves, we all live a more rich and full life,” Zalta said.
Williston’s first student life speaker to discuss this year’s theme of Emotional Fitness, Garret Kramer, addressed an assembly in the Phillips Stevens Chapel on September 30. Kramer, founder of Inner Sports, has coached athletes and corporate clients, and is the author of two books, Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life, and The Path of No Resistance: Why Overcoming is Simpler than You Think.
His basic thesis is that our minds are sometimes cluttered with thoughts. That’s when we feel insecure and disconnected. At other times, our minds are clear. That’s when we feel confident and can connect with our passions. Both these states are normal, and we move back and forth from what he called state A (the cluttered mind) to state B (the clear mind). Difficulty arises, he posited, when we resist the up and down nature of this cycle, and when we don’t realize that external circumstances don’t cause the back-and-forth. “We work in-to-out, not out-to-in, even though it’s quite normal to think the opposite is true,” he said.
Kramer called this natural ability to self-correct our “psychological immune system.” To illustrate, he described a toddler having a tantrum. This toddler will eventually calm down and move into a clear state of mind. The toddler didn’t “think” his way to this new state of mind. It just happened, and he or she let it happen. “A toddler doesn’t obstruct the psychological immune system.”
Kramer’s talk spurred many questions, and some push-back, from students. One questioned how external circumstances, such as a death in the family, could not affect one’s state of mind. Kramer said there is a correlation between the sadness we feel at someone’s death or any tragedy, but the circumstance doesn’t cause the feeling. Another student asked what Kramer his source for his information. “Truth,” he answered, citing leaders such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela who have spoken about this phenomenon.
Student Harrison Winrow ’18 appreciated both the talk, and the robust give-and-take between Kramer and the audience. “I was inspired to see how passionate members of the student body and faculty were today, inciting lengthy dialogue and insightful debate all around campus for the hours following assembly,” he said.
Students and faculty will have more opportunities to discuss and think about the theme of Emotional Fitness at upcoming advisory meetings and class assemblies this term.
Why would you want to leave Williston? That was the question Head of School Robert Hill III put to graduating seniors during Williston Northampton School’s 175th Commencement ceremony, which took place under a tent on the Quad on May 29. (See the links below for comprehensive coverage.)
Mr. Hill went on to describe the transition graduates were about to engage in as they move past their late adolescent years and enter the adult world. He added that their education at Williston Northampton School had fully prepared them for this next step.
Commencement speaker Nonie Creme ’90, in an authentic and inspiring speech that drew an enthusiastic response from the audience, further illustrated how a Williston education served her throughout her career and life. Creme, an entrepreneur who has started two successful beauty product companies, described herself as a “really messed up teenager,” and began her story in a Santa Fe jail where she ended up after running away from her Texas home. As she tells it, the choice between boarding school and jail was a “no brainer.”
Here at Williston, she reinvented herself from a “Southern yokel in mom jeans” (or so she felt) who didn’t know how to use the washing machines in the basement of her dorm, to a cigarette-smoking Goth girl who would steal away to New York City and frequent punk clubs on breaks from school. It was at Williston where she met her “tribe.” “I retain more friendships from Williston than from any other period in my life and I’ve lived, people,” she said. “That’s proof of how critical this place is, and how critical these relationships are to you at this stage of your life.”
After Williston, she studied art at Scripps College and then followed a boy to London, where, by day, she camped out in the Underground with her nail polish supplies and sold desk-side manicures to executives. Soon fashion-lovers sought out her polish mixes. From there, she became the founding creative director of Butter London, a high-end cosmetics company. After experiencing success there, she left to found Nonie Creme Colour Prevails, selling creatively packaged makeup for the mass market at drug stores around the country.
But she never abandoned her punk aesthetic. “It’s not lost on me that there are many people out there who might say a woman who won’t dye her hair and wears a skinhead and a septum ring doesn’t belong in the beauty industry, and certainly couldn’t be the meaningful Founder of a multi-million dollar business,” she said.
“Well, because of the love and support I received right here at Williston,” she told the audience, “I have the confidence to say ‘Screw you, I can do anything I want.’ And so can you, and so WILL you.”
Following the presentation of diplomas to the 132 graduates present (one graduating senior was not able to be at the event) by Board Chairman John Hazen White Jr., Senior Class Speaker Christopher Hudson gave his address.
Hudson asked his classmates to focus on three concepts: discipline, forgiveness, and attitude, and told them to stay positive and be grateful for the education they received at Williston.
Congratulations to the phenomenal Class of 2016!
Please see the following links for more on 2016 Commencement: